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Our history

Our hospitals have maintained a distinguished medical and nursing tradition throughout their history; they claim many eminent physicians and surgeons amongst their past and present alumni and staff. 

The Royal London hospital museum tell stories, celebrates it's achievements and explains their place in history. The hospital also hold archives which consist of the documents and records that need to be permanently preserved for legal, financial and historical purposes. 

The Royal London Hospital history timeline, 1740-2012

RLH 1740 Image One

1740: The London began life
In September 1740 The London began life when seven men met in the Feathers Tavern in Cheapside, London to found what was originally named The London Infirmary. Like other charities, the London Infirmary (renamed London Hospital in 1748) was founded by professional men, businessmen and philanthropists. However, The London was intended for the sick poor among ‘the merchant seaman and manufacturing classes’: the east End community of the time. In November 1740 the first patients were received at a house in Featherstone Street, Moorfields. In the following May, the hospital moved to rented premises in Prescot Street, near the Tower of London.                                                         

RLH 1740 Image Two

1740s: Five new general hospitals were founded in London
Between 1720 and 1745 five new general hospitals were founded in London. All became great institutions and were the products of the voluntary hospital movement, that is, charity hospitals supported by the voluntary contributions of the public. The London was one of these new hospitals, which were unique to England and north America and were inspired by a mixture of social, scientific and humanitarian motives. The London relied on public generosity for over 200 years, from it's opening in 1740 with only one shilling (5p) in the bank until it's running costs were taken over by the state under the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. The support of members of the Royal Family and leading members of society was important in inspiring benefactors to help the charity hospital.

RLH 1752 Image Three

1752: Building began on the new hospital in Whitchapel
The hospital governors appointed a committee under the Earl of Macclesfield to choose a site for a purpose built hospital. Mount Field in Whitechapel, which was owned by the City Corporation, was selected and building began in 1752.

RLH 1757 Image Four

1757: New hospital, was partially opened
In 1757 the new hospital, designed by Boulton Mainwaring was partially opened at a cost of £18,000.

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1785: The London Hospital Medical College was founded
The hospitals surgeons and physicians trained pupils by taking them into the hospital, discussing with them the patients illnesses and sometimes allowing them to administer treatment. This method of teaching was combined with lecturers and anatomy classes, taken outside the Infirmary until 1785, when The London Hospital Medical College (the first hospital based medical school in England), was founded by William Blizard and James Maddocks.

RLH 1791 Image Six

1791: Operation bell of The London Hospital
This bell, together with the bell of 1757 that hangs in the hospital entrance, was made in the Whitechapel bell foundry. Before the introduction of anaesthetics in 1846, it is reputed to have summoned attendants to hold surgical patients still.

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1700's: Health in the Eighteenth Century
Death from starvation was common. Many women died in childbirth and still more children died in infancy. Plague had disappeared from London with the Great Fire, but there were regular outbreaks of smallpox, dysentery, typhoid and typhus (or gaol fever). Medical treatment was limited to quinine for ague (malaria), mercury for syphilis and laudanum (opium and alcohol) for pain relief, while ineffective methods like bleeding, purges, vomit induction, artificial sweating, cold bathing and restriction of food and water were promoted by most physicians.

RLH 1800s Image Eight

1800's: The Nineteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century was a period of remarkable growth for the hospital, given impetus by a rapid rise in the population of east London. The health of east enders became a national issue when successive cholera outbreaks, between 1830 and 1866, focused attention on the inadequacies of sanitation and public health provision in the area, leading to increased public support for the hospital, allowing it to expand.

RLH 1800s Image Nine

1800: Nursing in the Nineteenth Century
In the early Nineteenth Century, many nurses were elderly and had already survived diseases like typhus and smallpox. Even with natural immunity to these diseases, the death rate among nurses could be high. The hospital tried to recruit younger nurses and those who could read and write, but this proved difficult. In 1840, Elizabeth Frys Nursing Sisters began to nurse in the hospital, training under the Matron, Jane Nelson. Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1911), who led a group of nurses to the Crimean War, inspired a generation. She opened a nurse training school at St Thomas Hospital in 1860 and one of its trainees, Annie Swift, came to The London as assistant matron. By 1873 the Hospital had opened its own school of nursing, based along Nightingale lines. The school of nursing expanded under Miss Eva Luckes to become the largest nurse training school in Britain. The improvements in nursing care and nurse education, inspired by Florence Nightingale (an honorary governor of the Hospital) and brought about by the Matron, Eva Luckes, between 1880 and 1919.

RLH 1840 Image 10

1840: Surgery
Surgery, whilst based on improving knowledge of human anatomy, was limited by terrible difficulties in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Anaesthetics were not used to relieve pain in surgery until the 1840’s, so operations had to be very rapid. The first operation conducted under anaesthetics (chloroform) at The London Hospital was in February 1847. Artery forceps were not introduced to stop bleeding until 1870 and surgeons relied on tourniquets (tight bands), cauteries (hot irons) and ligatures (silk threads) to prevent blood loss. The surgeon’s greatest problem was his ignorance of germs and infection. Wounds became infected and surgical instruments introduced germs. Many patients survived an operation but died later of blood poisoning. In the 1870s surgeons began to appreciate the importance of hygiene and preventing germs in surgery by using antiseptics like carbolic acid.

RLH 1866 Image 11

1866: Barnardo became a medical student at The London
Thomas John Barnardo, became a medical student here in 1866 and set the up the first of his Dr Barnardos homes in Stepney Causeway.

RLH 1876 Image 12

1876: Grocers Wing opened
The Grocers Wing of the hospital was opened by Queen Victoria on 11 March 1876. This was one of the Queen’s first public appearances since the death of her husband Prince Albert 15 years before and she was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds. 30,000 patients a year were now being treated, most without governors’ letter of recommendation and the average number of patients in the hospital was 650. The hospital struggled to keep pace with the growth of industry and population in the East End, the consequences of poverty and the rise in industrial accidents.

 RLH 1886 Image 13

1886: Joseph Merrick, admitted to the hospital
Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, was admitted to the hospital. He remained there until he died, in his hospital room facing Bedstead Square in 1890.

RLH 1895 Image 14

1895: Nurse training
Tredegar House - the preliminary training school - the first in England opened in 1895 in the house given by Lord Tredegar.

RLH 1896 Image 15

1896: Late Nineteenth Century
In 1896, Sydney Holland, later Lord Knutsford, became the hospital’s chairman. The tireless efforts and resourcefulness of this "Prince of Beggars" encouraged benefactors to contribute millions of pounds towards the rebuilding of the hospital and the expansion of the facilities of what had become Britain’s largest general hospital.

RLH 1903 Image 16

1903: New outpatients department opens
The new London Hospital outpatients department was opened in 1903, by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It featured new departments, such as the finsen light department, massage department and (from 1911) a dental school.

RLH 1904 Image 17

1904: Queen Alexandra became hospital president
Queen Alexandra, after whom a wing was named, became hospital president in 1904. The Alexandra Wing included an obstetrical ward and a kosher kitchen and accommodation for Jewish patients provided at the request of the Jewish community.

RLH 1914 Image 18

1914: The first world war
The hospital received the first wounded to return from the Western Front during the First World War.

RLH 1920 Image 19

1920: The financial struggle
Hospitals accumulated large debts during the war and many introduced charges for patients. Lord Knutsford had already introduced means testing of patients at The London. Lord Dawson, physician at The London, advised government to set up primary health centres.The financial struggle continued through the 1930’s.

RLH 1925 Image 20

1925: Sir Henry Souttar performs the first successful operation to stretch the mitral valve
Sir Henry Souttar performed the first successful operation to stretch the mitral valve, a basis for modern heart surgery. Souttar was also the first at the Hospital to use radium in cancer treatment.

RLH 1925a Image 21

1925: Sate registration of nurses introduced
State registration of nurses, was introduced at the Hospital in 1919, meant nurse training changed to a three-year course and modernisation was led by Clare Alexander. At first this was not compulsory. Londoners began to take state registration from 1925. At that time, the hospital still had a private nursing staff of 200, caring for patients in their own homes.

RLH 1930 Image 22

1930: Poor law infirmaries converted into municipal hospitals
Poor law infirmaries (such as Mile End Hospital), which cared for many, were converted into municipal hospitals by the London County Council. Mile End and St. Clements hospitals became part of The London Hospital group in 1968 and remained so until 1994.

RLH 1930a Image 23

1930: Neurosurgery develops
Neurosurgery developed after Knutsford arranged for Hugh Cairns to work under the American pioneer Harvey Cushing.

RLH 1939 Image 24

1939: Second World War
The hospital played a central role in organising emergency medical services to the north and east of London during the Second World War. It also suffered heavy damage due to enemy action during and after the Blitz. Staff and patients were evacuated to sector hospitals outside London, but essential services like accident and emergency, midwifery and outpatients remained at Whitechapel. A hospital annex in Brentwood, Essex, opened providing 345 beds (in huts), including 70 for patients with tuberculosis which was still a major public health problem.

War accelerated the development of new drugs. The sulphonamide drugs, introduced in the 1930s, were augmented by penicillin, introduced in 1943, streptomycin (1946) and other antibiotics which had a great impact on patient treatment.

RLH 1948 Image 26

1948: The hospital became part of the National Health Service
The hospital became part of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 as the voluntary hospital system came to an end. In 1948 the voluntary hospital system, which had cared for the acutely sick since the eighteenth Century came to an end as the state took control of health care under the National Health Act. The London, like other teaching hospitals lost little of its independence for the first 26 years of the NHS and was financially better off than before.

RLH 1950 Image 27

1950: Redevelopment at Whitechapel
Plans for complete redevelopment at Whitechapel were drawn up but not implemented. The 1950s saw reconstruction throughout London as war damaged buildings were repaired and rebuilt. Nurses training emphasised individual patient needs and there was a move towards greater continuity between hospital and community care.

RLH 1960 Image 28

1959: Renal
The Royal London received its first artificial kidney – a key advance in the development of its renal services.

RLH 1960s Image 29

1960: A new dental hospital, pathology institute and school of nursing and midwifery
The 1960’s saw more construction: a new dental hospital, pathology institute and school of nursing and midwifery. Meanwhile, former local authority hospitals Mile End, St Clement’s and later Bethnal Green hospitals joined The London.

RLH 1974 Image 30

1960's: Advances in treatment for diseases of the kidney
The London Hospital received its first artificial kidney in 1959. Renal transplants were performed at the hospital from 1968, at the same time as Hanbury Ward developed as a dialysis centre.

RLH 1990s Image 31

1974: NHS reorganisation
In common with other teaching hospitals, The London remained under the control of its own board of governors and retained much of its independence until the NHS reorganisation of 1974. Reorganisation in 1974 brought profound changes for London’s teaching hospitals. Health districts, areas and regions were created as hospital boards disappeared, but the new system was soon re-evaluated.

RLH 1994 Image 32

1990's: Royal title
1990 sees The London Hospital being granted a Royal title by HM Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate the 250th anniversary of its opening on the Whitechapel site. Further reorganisation in 1991 created NHS Trusts, intended to allow hospitals to regain some self-government. The Royal London, granted a Royal title by HM The Queen on its 250th anniversary in 1990, became a first wave NHS Trust. More changes came in 1994, when The Royal London merged with St Bartholomew’s and the London Chest Hospitals (later also Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children), to form a new Trust, since renamed Barts and The London. The Royal London is already home to a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS), Europe’s largest accident and emergency department, and one of Britain’s biggest children’s hospital services. Under further reorganisation of the health service in 1991 the hospital, together with Mile End and St. Clement’s Hospitals and local community health services, became one of the first National Health Service trusts.
April 1994: Merger
After public consultation, The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust was formed, amalgamating The Royal London, St Bartholomew's and The London Chest Hospital's.
In 1998 the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children joined the Trust
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children (which joined the Trust in 1996) transferred its services to The Royal London Hospital. The Children’s service retain their historical identity through their current name, The Queen Elizabeth Children’s Service, a title granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.The medical colleges of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital also merged with Queen Mary and Westfield College. St Bartholomew's Hospital is now to remain open providing specialist cardiac and cancer care, whilst general hospital services will be concentrated at The Royal London in Whitechapel.
1999: London's Air Ambulance
The Trust was renamed Barts and The London NHS Trust and London’s Air Ambulance, based at The Royal London, became operational. It was the first helicopter emergency medical service in Britain to carry a doctor on board.
2005: London bombings
The Royal London Hospital received and treated 208 patients injured in the 7 July bombings. Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the hospital the next day to meet and thank staff.
2006: The new £58 million pathology and pharmacy building opened at The Royal London Hospital
The new building consolidated Barts and The London's pharmacy and pathology services - previously located in 14 different locations. It improved efficiency and allowed us to provide services for patients across a much wider area in north east London and further afield. The building boasts the largest automated testing laboratory in the NHS and a robotic drug dispenser. A light installation commissioned by Vital Arts, the Trust’s arts project, from local artist Martin Richman, illuminates the stairwell of the new building.
2007: New hospital build starts
Construction of our new hospital at The Royal London started.
2012: The first phase of the new state-of-the-art Royal London Hospital opened on 1 March 2012
The new hospital replaces a number of now demolished old buildings with a coherent structure, purpose-built to support the delivery of 21st century clinical care.
2012: Barts Health NHS Trust
On the 1 April 2012 The Royal London Hospital became part of Barts Health NHS Trust.


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